Juan Kincaid / Eyewitness Sports
HAMMOND, La. — Devin King isn’t your ordinary high school athlete, he’s also a nationally ranked pole vaulter and as Juan Kincaid found out, King is attempting to remain just that, by keeping his head down and training in seclusion.
It may not look like much, but in the middle of the woods on the Northshore, is where Olympic dreams are being forged, and where athletes with the biggest aspirations go to train.
This story is less about the facility, but more about who is working out in it.
Devin King may be modest, but the Jewel Sumner High School senior also knows what’s true, and when it comes to rising above the competition, King is the king.
At a recent meet this track season, King broke the national indoor pole vaulting record, with 17’10.25′, almost 18-feet.
‘It felt great, you know, Andrew set it [the record] and I broke it. I felt relieved because I worked so hard right here at it, and you know, finally got it,’ said Devin King of his new record.
King made getting over that bar look oh so easy, and it is the way this sport has been for him, since his first jumps 6-years ago.
‘I started 7th grade, and I always liked it, and my friends and I, we always played around at it, and I got good at it,’ explains Devin.
King went from jumping 8-feet in the 7th grade, to 10’6′ a year later, to a national record of 17’10.25′ a month ago.
He’s increased his jump by over 4-feet total since his freshman year of high school.
‘I could tell that from the first day that I coached him,’ said Erica Bartolina. ‘I could tell that he was a special athlete.’
Former Olympian Erica Bartolina has been Devin’s coach since his freshman season, so she’s witnessed his remarkable growth in the sport first-hand.
‘That much improvement is not odd, but where he started from, it is phenomenal,’ says Bartolina.
‘He does a lot of things really naturally, he can adjust coming down the runway, he can adjust really well when he leaves the ground,’ explains another of King’s coaches.
But, it is how others left the ground before him that inspires King to reach new heights today.
‘I went to Reno last year and it was the first time I’ve ever seen real pros in actual life instead of on YouTube, and it really inspired me to you know, get good at it, and I wanna be like them one day,’ says King.
And we’re seeing that that day is coming. With Bartolina’s help, Devin continues to raise the bar on the high school level, and, his numbers aren’t that far off from the NCAA’s best.
This fall, King will join the track team at Southeastern where one of the Lions’ assistant coaches is Bartolina’s ex-coach and ex-husband, Michael Bartolina.
‘He coached me to the Olympics,’ says Erica.
‘I believe in Erica, she’s taught me a lot and now with my decision to go to Southeastern, I think with Mike Bartolina, since he trained Erica, he can get me somewhere,’ explains King.
‘Devin’s long been the king of pole vaulting here in Louisiana, of course his goals go far beyond that though, as he is thinking Olympic games in 2016. And he is not really that far off, Devin is barely a foot away from the goal of qualifying for the United States team.
‘You have to be consistent at 18’6′ or 19-feet. To get 18-feet though it has to come from the heart,’ says King.
‘He believes he can do that, and when you have an athlete that believes they can do it, then don’t tell them that they can’t, cuz you know….four years ago I wouldn’t have thought that he could make 18-feet in high school. There’s a hope but it’s usually a pretty far-fetched dream. But as it gets closer, you see that it’s definitely possible,’ adds Erica Bartolina.
And that has been Devin’s approach to pole vaulting all along, if he can see it, chances are, he will eventually get over it.
‘Somebody asked me ‘have you ever lost’ and I was like, yeah I’ve been there and I just don’t want to do it anymore,’ said Devin.
The defending 3A champion hasn’t lost when it has counted the most, and by the looks of things out in the seclusion of the training facility, in relative obscurity, the king of pole vaulting will continue to reign supreme.